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40-Year Phiniversary: Dolphins Top Lions to Clinch AFC East Title

Miami returns to the playoffs after a drought
Publish Date: 12/09/2019
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
CIRCA 1970's: Running back Larry Csonka #39 of the Miami Dolphins talks with head coach Don Shula on the sidelines circa mid 1970's during an NFL football game. Csonka played for the Dolphins from 1968-74 and 1979. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

After being the NFL’s most dominant team for the early parts of 1970s, the Miami Dolphins had taken a step back during the middle and later part of the decade.

From 1971-74, the Dolphins won the AFC East every year, reached the Super Bowl three times and won it twice. In 1975 and 1976, Miami failed to make the playoffs before settling for a wild card spot in the next two seasons. On this day 40 years, Miami would clinch its first division crown in five years with a 28-10 win over the lowly Detroit Lions.

The Dolphins were coming off a big 39-24 win over the New England Patriots as they arrived at the Pontiac Silverdome on Dec. 9, 1979. Miami held a 1-game lead over the Patriots and needed only to win to clinch the division.

Miami wasted no time seizing control of the contest as quarterback Bob Griese fired first-quarter touchdown passes of 25 and 29 yards to Nat Moore and Jimmy Cefalo, respectively. Detroit cut the lead to 11 at halftime, but the Dolphins’ defense continued to dominate in the second half.

The Lions netted just 182 yards of offense on the day as Miami tallied six sacks and forced three turnovers. Neal Colzie and Tim Foley each came up with interceptions in the victory.

Miami extended the lead to 21-3 in the third quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run by Larry Csonka. Gary Davis added a 3-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Lions finally found the end zone late in the contest on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Scott Hunter to Gene Washington.

Griese finished the day with 229 yards passing, the two scores and an interception. Moore led all receivers with 78 yards receiving on four catches. Freddie Scott caught four passes for 65 yards to lead the Lions.

The Dolphins would lose at home to the New York Jets the following week and then to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Division round. That would be Miami’s final playoff game with Griese under center. The division title that allowed Miami to play in that game was clinched on this day four decades ago.

Mike Ferguson is a contributor for The Grueling Truth, covering Florida sports and sports history. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. To keep up with all of his work, like his Facebook page.

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